A man is zip-lining down a rope in a very fast-flowing waterfall while canyoning. The technique is known as guided rappel and is used to avoid obstacles.

What Is Canyoning A Technical Guide

This adventure sport is an exhilarating outdoor activity that has become increasingly popular recently. It combines the thrill of rappelling, hiking and swimming and offers a unique way to explore the outdoors. But for those who are unfamiliar with the sport, it can seem intimidating. That’s why having an up-to-date guide is essential for any canyoning adventure. This blog post will explain why a technical guide is necessary for canyoning and why having one is crucial. It is a great resource to help with canyoning safety tips for beginners.


Let's go? Here is the go-to information - a guide to the grading aspect of canyons. You've heard of hiking, backpacking and mountaineering. Yet, have you considered exploring the vast and remote canyons scattered around the world?

Awe-inspiring and sweat-inducing, canyoning is an adventure like none other, allowing you to discover new depths alongside incredible heights. 

So, canyoning or canyoneering

Today, we're exploring the answer to this question. We'll provide a brief overview of the sport alongside a description of its rating system to help you find a route that's ideal for you.

Ready to learn more? Let's get started!

TLDR listen to the article instead.

What is canyoning a technical guide - a woman is abseiling down a Cautley Spout canyon waterfall. She is carrying a rope bag attached to her harness.

Let's explore Canyoning

As its name implies, this adventure sport includes travelling in and among canyons using various techniques. As you explore the canyon landscape, you'll participate in a mix of adrenaline-pumping adventures.

Canyoning is a fantastic mountaineering activity; it primarily belongs, but not exclusively, to adventure sports and exploratory outdoor activities. It is practised within a demanding vertical environment - sometimes wet and sometimes dry.
It consists of ascending to the highest point of interest or possible point of ingress and then deploying various techniques to descend to the lowest point of the canyon or interest.

A mountain range includes different types of geological features with or without water, which can be classed as:

  • canyons
  • ravines
  • gorges
  • caverns
  • caves
  • ice waterfalls

All the features have been created by water cutting through and eroding the rock over millions of years. Canyoneering (the act of) is a fantastic way to move through these features. This adventurous sport will include:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • jumping
  • down climbing
  • sliding / tobogganing
  • bouldering
  • rappeling / abseiling
  • bridging / stemming

Many different rope techniques will often be deployed to allow progressive movement through the demanding environment. Not every canyon is wet or is blessed with jump pools. Of course, there is a great delight to be found exploring a canyon’s many hidden features. It's a type of sport which consists of discovering the best techniques and routes that allow you to move through this natural outdoor waterpark (natural environment).

Canyoning usually occurs in remote and mountainous regions where the water has cut interesting shapes into the rock formations. It's an ideal stress reliever, as the adrenaline you feel can help increase your blood flow and heighten your awareness.

If swimming through rock pools, clambering over boulders and sliding down natural chutes sounds like a thrill you're up for, this can be the perfect activity for you - though you'll need to be prepared before you set out on your great outdoor adventure.

Canyoning is not ghyll scrambling, although ghyll scrambling is often confused or tagged as canyoning. Ghyll scrambling is an adventure where you walk up or down a streambed, often using your hands to help you scramble up or jump down the steep sections. Canyoning is more technical, using ropes and other gear to rappel/abseil down waterfalls. While both activities can be challenging, they are pretty different. Ghyll scrambling is more about using your strength and agility to scramble along the streambed. At the same time, canyoning is more about using your personal knowledge and skills to navigate your way down a series of waterfalls.


What to Pack 

Your specific packing list for canyoning equipment will depend on where the canyons are located and how steep the descent is. You may also bring along special gear according to your skill level and the amount of difficulty you expect to encounter. 

Those particulars aside, there are a few pieces of gear that every canyoneer will need to keep handy. Let's review!

Mountaineering Helmet

By nature, canyoning can be a dangerous sport, and the risk of injury is always there. Pack a mountaineering helmet capable of providing the highest level of support. Specifically, look for one that's ISO-rated or one that features a UIAA mark or CE label. 

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is a non-governmental organisation that teams with product manufacturers to establish quality control standards. The ISO "9000" series relates to the climbing and mountaineering world.

In addition, the UIAA-106 mark means the helmet has undergone rigorous testing by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. While a CE label indicates that the helmet meets CE EN 12492 requirements, a standard for mountaineering helmets was established by the Conformité Européenne. 

Canyoning Rope

You may be up for tackling a significant descent, depending on your skill and comfort level. Or, you might stick to shallower ones. Either way, you'll need to bring some canyon-specific rope to meet the sport's unique environmental challenges.

Look for a true static rope or semi-static rope made of hydrophobic fibres such as polyester or polyamide. This material will hold up over time and provide a smoother rappelling experience. There is a wide range of ropes available that can be used in the canyoning environment. 

canyoning equipment - A person is packing canyoning rope into a rope bag

Packing a canyoning rope into a rope bag

Utilising the information from what is canyoning a technical guide will help with your decision-making about ropes, especially when it concerns rope length. Knowing your rope length is a crucial piece of information for more reasons other than making sure it reaches the bottom of a waterfall.

Wetsuit

It's rare to end a trip dry, especially in the UK. Armed with a canyoning technical guide will help you decide  how likely you'll get soaked, and that's where a wetsuit will come in handy! Although most watersport wetsuits are 2-3mm thick, you'll need a sturdier, 4/3mm one for canyoning, even a 5mm split wetsuit, even consider a 7mm one for colder conditions. Having the correct wetsuit and clothing can make all the difference to your adventure.

Look for one made of flexible, water-resistant neoprene and, in addition to the suit itself, be sure to give a thought to neoprene gloves and socks to keep your hands and feet warm. Spending up to 5 hours in a canyon can be a cold experience without the correct clothing.

Drysuits can be considered in very cold conditions or on expeditions. As the name suggests, it keeps you dry internally. You can wear various garments under a dry suit to help keep you warm. However, there are special requirements to consider – one primary consideration is what happens if it is ripped. Trying to repair a drysuit in a damp environment, assuming you carry a repair kit, can be very tricky. Mind you keeping water out of your drysuit is a good thing, but what about the sweat you are trapping inside?

For more information, read here (to come)

ICOPro and UCA Canyon Rating System

What is canyoning - a technical guide - A person is abseiling down a very steep waterfall at Cautley Spout in the Yorkshire Dales

What is canyoning a technical guide explores the rating of canyons!

As you prepare to begin your personal canyoneering experience, it's important to understand the logistics of the sport and the elements to expect. 

Both the International Canyoning Organisation for Professionals (ICOPro) and Universal Canyoning Academy (UCA) offer a Canyoneer Initiation course that's ideal for beginners. As you learn the basic techniques alongside an ICOPro professional or UCA professional, you'll gain more autonomy, independence, and confidence.

One of the foundations you'll learn is the ICOPro/UCA canyon rating system. The rating system they both use currently is based on the FFME rating system. These both rate canyons based on their vertical characteristics (v) and water characteristics (a). There is a Roman numeral at the end for the canyons exposure and risk.

Each vertical characteristic will rate between 1 and 7 as follows:

  • Level 1: Very Easy
  • Level 2: Easy
  • Level 3: Low Difficulty
  • Level 4: Medium Difficulty
  • Level 5: Difficult
  • Level 6: Very Difficult/Exposed
  • Level 7: Extremely Difficult/High Exposed

Each water characteristic will rate between 1 and 7 and will depend on factors such as the amount of swimming and jumping. The grade will also include the expected water conditions and obstacles that will be encountered. Examples of water obstacles could include logs, siphons, undercuts, strong currents, hydraulics and more.

An example of a grade a3 (water characteristics) would be:

  • Swimming in calm water 30m max
  • Progression into light water current
  • Easy jumps 3-5 metres
  • Long water slide or medium-angled slope
Fisherplace Gill Abseiling a waterfall into a pool - a photograph of person abseiling in a canyon

Abseiling into a relatively calm pool

Compared to a grade a7:

  • Progression into powerful water current.
  • Swimming would be challenging amongst water obstacles.
  • Powerful water movements.
  • Easy jumps over 14 metres, but difficult jumps of less than 10 metres due to difficult take-off, trajectory or landing.
  • Siphon of more than three metres in depth or length. An exposed, technical siphon deeper than one metre and includes water current or swimming or no visibility.

For a full breakdown refer to the canyon rating systems.

Canyon ratings also take into account the canyon's exposure and scale, ascending from I to VI depending on:

  • The time required to get out of a flash flood
  • The accessibility of exits
  • The total duration of the descent

Rating System Format

The format for the ICOPro or UCA rating system is: v(1-7)a(1-7)Roman Numeral 

For example, a canyon can rank as:

v2a3III

This means it has an easy vertical characteristic and a low-difficulty water characteristic. You can get out of a flash flood within 30 minutes and find an exit within an hour. Expect a descent duration of four to eight hours.

You may also see an ICOPro/UCA ranking without the letters, using only two Arabic digits and one Roman numeral. Using the example above, the canyon's rating would read 2.3.III.


what is canyoning a technical guide -A diagram of a canyoning topographical chart. Based on the characteristics of scale force canyon.

Scale Force Canyon Topo

Use this guide:
What Is Canyoning A Technical Guide


The grade of a canyon can be assessed, but this is only a small part of all the information needed to successfully descend a canyon.

Once a canyon's rating has been determined, it can be added to a topographical chart (TOPO for short), like the example of Scale Force Canyon in The Lake District. 

Check out other canyons to have sporting adventures.

Understand that the canyon's configuration can change at any time, especially in the event of a flash flood. If this occurs, it will affect the canyon's initial rating. Canyoneers should always be on high alert and practice all safety measures, even in an environment that ranks lowest on the scale.


An understanding of past and prevailing weather conditions is of vital importance.

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The grading system for the United Kingdom

The grading system used in the UK takes a different approach. While fundamentally considering all aspects used within ICOpro and UCA, the UK Canyoning Association (UKCA) has adopted the system based on the American Canyoneering Association (ACA).


Gosh so many acronyms

Cautley Spout canyon photograph showing someone standing at the foot of a waterfall to show scale to the waterfalls

scale is hard to determine

The rating system for the American Canyoneering Association


The ACA uses numbers and letters, for example, 3B VR. Or 4A II XX

The first number represents the technical rope work and terrain. Each technical rating is between 1 and 4, as follows:

  • Level 1: Canyon Hiking
  • Level 2: Basic Canyoneering
  • Level 3: Intermediate Canyoneering
  • Level 4: Advanced-Expert Canyoneering

The second value (a letter) is related to the water volume and current. The value is rated from A-C. However, the C value is also split into sub-values as follows C1, C2, C3 and C4.

The third value is a Roman numeral, and its value is related to time and commitment.

  • I = 1-3 hours
  • II = 4-6 hours
  • III = 7-12 hours
  • IV = 13-18 hours
  • V = one and a half days
  • VI = expected to take two or more days

The last value is related to risk and seriousness. The letters are:

  • R - Risky
  • X - Extreme
  • XX - Double Extreme

The entire ACA rating can be found here.

The ratings provided in this canyon guide are based on the natural state of narrow canyons under normal conditions. It is important to note that these conditions and risks can vary significantly based on different weather conditions. When venturing into narrow canyons, it is crucial to stay informed and prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable canyoning experience. Should you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to consult the expertise of an experienced canyoning guide.  

The rating assumes you are descending the canyon for the first time (on-sight). Most canyons that are bolted have a couple of bolt choices. This is likely because there is a high-water route or more sporting route, which could require a better understanding and knowledge of rope work and rigging.

Assessing the Risk

There will be a need to assess the risk during the descent continually; this is called dynamic risk assessment. Dynamic risk assessment improves with experience and time. Throughout your adventures, you will encounter canyons that are low-risk, moderate-risk and high-risk. Each canyon will have its own unique characteristics and features, including obstacles and hazards.

Some of the obstacles you may encounter on high-risk canyons include:

  • Exposed traversing
  • Route finding
  • Challenging rappels/abseiling
  • Challenging anchors

Both beginner and intermediate canyoneers should avoid these routes, which should be simple to do, as there are plenty of less-difficult routes to discover!

If you are new to canyoneering, you should plan to find a low-risk or moderate-risk canyon if possible, as these provide all the excitement with few of the dangers.  The safer conditions allow for a canyoneer to hone their skills.

Explore and Enjoy Canyoning Today

When you want to see the world from a fresh perspective and gain a newfound appreciation for the natural landscape near you, there's no better way to do so than through a canyon adventure.

A woman is smiling and looking very happy in a waterfall

What is canyoning a technical guide is a comprehensive resource, commonly used alongside a canyoning technical manual, designed to provide expert guidance and insights into the thrilling world of canyoning. This invaluable resource serves as a go-to reference for both novice and experienced canyoners, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate through canyons safely and efficiently. From understanding the fundamentals of canyoning to mastering specialised techniques, this reference covers every grading aspect of this exhilarating outdoor activity. By delving into its information, you will gain a deeper understanding of canyons, push your physical limits, and embark on unforgettable adventures within narrow gorges and ravines, alongside spectacular waterfalls, and amidst awe-inspiring natural landscapes. Prepare to immerse yourself in the excitement of canyoneering as you delve into this essential guide alongside a canyoning technical manual. 

Ready to take your interest in this sport to new heights?

We'll also help you plan and coordinate the canyoning or ghyll scrambling adventure of your dreams. Contact us today to view the Lake District in a brand new way.

Keep reading! We've got more resources and information you need right in our blog articles. 

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